Security guards stand outside Federal Court as the trial for Osama Bin Laden's son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, begins in New York City, Mar. 3, 2014.
Andrew Burton/Getty

The political importance of a terrorist conviction

Updated
It didn’t get much attention, but a federal jury yesterday handed down an important verdict yesterday.
 
Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and al Qaeda’s spokesperson, who recorded multiple messages threatening terrorist attacks, was convicted on multiple terrorist charges. In a statement, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said, “It was appropriate that this defendant, who publicly rejoiced over the attacks on the World Trade Center, faced trial in the shadow of where those buildings once stood.”
 
Adam Serwer asked the politically salient question: “What if you held a major terrorism trial in New York City and no one noticed?”
Suleiman Abu Gaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and an extremist preacher called upon by Al-Qaeda’s fallen leader to deliver the group’s message to the masses, was convicted on federal terrorism charges Wednesday morning. Gaith, who was captured in Turkey in February 2013, was charged, tried and convicted in about a third of the time it’s taken for the trial of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his co-conspirators to even get started. . Abu Gaith’s trial itself took less than a month.
 
Shortly after President Barack Obama took office, Attorney General Eric Holder announced his intention to try Mohammed and his co-defendants in federal court in New York City. Republicans erupted in paroxysms of fear, as though Ragnarok would ensue the moment the defendants stepped in a courtroom.
Quite right. According to a wide variety of Republicans, yesterday’s trial never should have happened. The United States may have an established and effective criminal justice system that has tried and convicted hundreds of terrorists, and we may also have an established and effective system of federal penitentiaries from which no terrorist has ever escaped, but right around January 2009, GOP lawmakers decided criminal trials for terrorist suspects were inherently outrageous. (Plenty of nervous Democrats, fearful of being labeled “weak on terror,” went along.)
 
Republicans have instead demanded military commissions, which tend to be an ineffective setting for trying suspected terrorists. Every modern presidential administration has relied on civilian courts for terrorist trials – a decision backed by the Pentagon, Justice Department, and intelligence agencies – but GOP officials have nevertheless insisted that Article III trials are the wrong way to go.
 
Yesterday offered additional evidence of how very wrong they are.
 
Indeed, Ghaith’s conviction showed the American justice system working exactly as it was designed to work: a suspect was represented by counsel; a jury was presented with evidence; the accused received a fair trial in a civilian court; and he was convicted.
 
And yet, when the Obama administration began prosecuting Ghaith, it was Republican Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) Lindsey Graham (R.S.C.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) condemning the move.
 
So where are the conservative complaints today, now that Ghaith’s conviction serves as a powerful rebuttal to GOP talking points?
 

Justice System and War On Terror

The political importance of a terrorist conviction

Updated